In this blog, I explore how our connection to the earth has affected our immune system and how to develop a more childlike relationship to our earth. As part of this I explore how beneficial some viruses and bacteria are and how to use the Extraordinary Vessels of ancient Chinese medicine to support our immune system.
The children of our ancients
As I work on my chapter on the playful child for my book Our Extraordinary Life Cycles, I have been thinking about the differences between our children’s lives and those of the ancients. My book is about the Extraordinary Vessels of Chinese medicine, but the ancient Chinese lived very much like people all over the world, in an agrarian society. The children of our ancients spent most of their early years in the heart of their family and in close contact with the natural world. Their education was primarily through working the land with their parents. They moved their bodies more than most children do these days, however only within a very localised environment. They breathed much cleaner air, air free from the many chemical and electromagnetic pollutants modern societies have added into the environment. Their water was also clear from these chemicals.
Most children today are not as connected to the natural world, even if they live in the countryside. We live in houses protected from the extremes of the elements by heating or cooling systems and many children have no access to a garden. There are screens and phones to distract us from being still in nature. Children travel much vaster distances, but in a passive way – in a pushchair, or car, or train or plane.
Childhood illnesses on the rise
We often think that we are so much healthier and evolved than the ancients. It is true that many deaths due to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, bacterial meningitis, and measles have dropped, but I was shocked, listening to Dr Zach Bush’s talk on the virome (viruses in and on our body),
to discover recently how many childhood illnesses have been on the rise since 1975. Autism, attention deficit disorder, asthma, obesity, allergies and mental health conditions are all increasing. In 1975 only 1 in 5000 children were diagnosed with autism. In 2012 it was a shocking 1 in 88 and it continues to rise.
Our environment is not supporting us
Why? Dr Bush suggests, and I tend to agree, that it is because the environment is not supporting us in the way that it used to. Our diet is lacking, partly because of the number of processed foods even young children consume and partly because of the declining quality of fresh food due to poor quality soil, water and air. Our soils have been depleted through years of intensive production. They have been contaminated by the excessive use of chemicals. Our air and water contain many toxic pollutants. Many children and adults don’t breathe properly because of lack of sufficient exercise.
Air and Food quality
Good quality Air Qi* (energy) and Food Qi are 2 foundations of traditional Chinese medicine. They take an even broader view of what affects their quality. It is not simply because of what is in the food and the air, but the whole way that food is produced and cooked. Was it cared for and loved while it was growing? What was the nature of the environment in which it grew? How was it harvested and what was the process by which it arrived in our house? Who cooked it and how? For the Air Qi, it is also about who is sharing the space with us. How are they feeling?
* Qi is the Chinese word for all forms of energy, both within the body and in the world outside. There are many different forms of Qi in the body. It is that which we cannot see and yet it regulates everything – physical and emotional processes.
If we attend to our Air Qi and Food Qi, our body will thrive and have a good immune system. This is especially important in the current days of pandemics. Disease is a failure of health. In ancient China there was more emphasis on how to support health rather than treat disease. Modern medicine focuses more on how to treat disease than prevent it.
We are part of the whole
Acknowledging that we are part of the whole is a basic tenet of Chinese medicine – the Tao. Our body is a garden which is influenced by the rhythms of the outer world and needs tending to like the outer world. Our modern world view has tended to give more emphasis to using the outer world to serve us. It also tends to see it as hostile, engendering fear of things outside us which we can’t control – like pandemics.
Viruses and bacteria are beneficial for us
We tend to see viruses and bacteria as hostile, but while some are, most are beneficial for us. Modern science has discovered that our body is full of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. They existed before us and have been around for over 3 and half billion years. Indeed in our “tree of life” one branch of single celled organisms, similar to bacteria, the archaea are known as the “old ones”. Bacteria and viruses are part of our evolution and are like life-giving soil within our gut and internal organs. They can provide immunity against bacterial pathogens, stimulating and updating our immune system. For example, latent herpes viruses “arm” (prepare) our natural killer (NK) cells, which are an important component of our immune system. NK cells kill tumour cells and cells infected with pathogenic viruses. A 7-day new-born already has viruses in their body and a gene used in the development of our placenta (syncitin) is borrowed from a retrovirus within our own tissue whose gene has been conserved among all primates, for around 45 million years. Antibiotics can kill good bacteria in our gut and viruses may help build them back.
The Extraordinary Vessels support our immune system
While some viruses and bacteria can be helpful, others are harmful and cause diseases as we know so clearly in the current times. However, the first measure to take to minimise any harm is to support our own immunity. We do this by focusing on strengthening our body and that of the world around us, by tending to our inner and outer environments. As part of this we can work with some powerful channels which are called the Extraordinary Vessels. These Vessels regulate all our organs and tissues and so have a capacity to modify our genome. If you want to learn how to use them I have some visualisations and exercises on my YouTube channel.
Transforming your inner and outer worlds with the Extraordinary Vessels of Chinese medicine.
Rediscover the joy of a young child
As part of this we could rediscover the joy a young child feels as they explore the world for the first time, delighting in the plants and the trees, feeling the insects and the butterflies, stamping their feet on the earth and taking pleasure in stretching their arms into the sky like the birds. The ancient Chinese believed if as an adult we can retain this sense of joy and wonder, we are indeed wise.
“ What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare…
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.”(Leisure by W.H. Davies)
“In 1960, 1.8 percent of children were reported to have a health condition severe enough to interfere with usual daily activities. In 2010, more than 8 percent of children had a health condition that interfered with daily activities—an increase of more than 400 percent in fifty years. 14–16 Much of the growth has come from four classes of more common, usually less complex conditions that have not had substantial mortality associated with them: asthma, 17 obesity, 18 mental health conditions, 19,20 and neurodevelopmental disorders, none of which reflect changes in survival. 21 “
The Rise In Chronic Conditions Among Infants, Children, And Youth Can Be Met With Continued Health System Innovations, Health Affairs, Vol 33 No 12, Children’s Health James M. Perrin, L. Elizabeth Anderson, and Jeanne Van Cleave
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